No criminal wrongdoing found in Vanessa Baugh investigation

‘Nothing criminal was found’
Commissioner Vanessa Baugh.
Commissioner Vanessa Baugh.(WWSB)
Published: Jun. 28, 2021 at 11:35 AM EDT
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MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WWSB) - After allegations of criminal wrongdoing by Manatee County Commission Chair Vanessa Baugh over COVID-19 pop-up vaccination events in her affluent district in mid-February, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office has concluded she did not commit any illegal actions.

A complaint alleged that Baugh improperly inserted herself and other constituents to the head of the line of the county’s standing vaccination pool after placing two pop-up vaccine sites in her district.

The commotion followed a firestorm of criticism over her selection of two areas in Lakewood Ranch to host the pop-up vaccine sites.

Michael Barfield, a paralegal, filed a complaint with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office alleging an abuse of the commissioner’s position. The complaint questioned the ethics of Baugh’s contact with her constituents over Manatee County’s waiting pool for vaccines.

On Monday, Sheriff Rick Warren stated that after a lengthy investigation, involving the review of hundreds of documents, investigators concluded that none of Baugh’s actions rose to the level of a crime.

Throughout this investigation, several criminal statues were considered for their potential applicability to Baugh’s involvement with the vaccination event, but none were determined to be germane. “Barring new evidence, no probable cause exists to charge Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh with a criminal offense,” the report from the Special Investigations Division said.

Sheriff Rick Wells says, “From the point we received this complaint our goal was to conduct a very thorough investigation. We spent countless hours on this, focusing not only on the statutes mentioned in the complaint, but also examining whether other laws were possibly broken. Nothing criminal was found.”

While the report may end the speculation over criminal wrongdoing, the ethical questions remain. “While the practice of taking a course of action in return for favorable political consideration may present certain ethical issues, it does not, under these circumstances, warrant criminal indictment,” the report said.

“Since statutory ethics violations do not fall within the purview of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, this investigative report will be promptly forwarded to the Florida Commission on Ethics per their request,” the report concluded.

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